British Airways’ parent International Airlines Group has hit back at Virgin Atlantic and its president Sir Richard Branson over his demand that regulators block IAG’s bid for BMI.

An IAG spokeswoman said: “BMI is a massively loss-making airline. Selling it to IAG offers the best solution for British consumers and UK plc.”

In an article in yesterday’s TWbusiness:am news alert Sir Richard argued: “BMI performs a vital service for a large number of people. It keeps prices down.” He said Virgin Atlantic could “replace BMI’s challenge to BA by adding regional UK flying”.

Sir Richard made a formal submission to the European Commission on Friday calling for it to block the IAG takeover, while politicians in Scotland wrote to both the European Competition Commissioner and the Office of Fair Trading expressing concerns.

However, the IAG spokeswoman said: “Virgin Atlantic has never flown to Scotland and, as far as we know, has no plans to do so.”

Responding to fears about the takeover in Scotland, she said: “We’ve committed to increasing flights to Scotland. Far from cutting back, British Airways added 4,000 weekly seats on its services from Heathrow to Glasgow last year.”

She said: “This deal is the only option for safeguarding services to the UK regions.”

Europe’s Competition Commissioner is expected to make a decision on IAG’s £172 million purchase of BMI from current owner Lufthansa next month. The deal was announced in December.

The IAG spokeswoman said: “We are confident the regulatory authorities will approve the deal.”